In December 1972, NASA Geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and his colleague, Commander Gene Cernan, spent three Earth days conducting experiments on the Moon, gathering up lunar rocks to take back home for analysis and, most likely, pinching themselves.
That mission, almost exactly 50 years ago, was the last time any person set foot on the lunar surface, the final triumph of NASA’s pivotal Apollo program. Of the 12 men to have ever walked on the Moon, Schmitt was the only one who began his career as a trained scientist, rather than a test pilot.
By some accounts, Schmitt was the photographer behind the famous first full picture of Earth from space, ‘the blue marble’, an image that captured a vision of a small, fragile and precious planet for the masses.
But Schmitt brought more home with him than a sense of renewed perspective. His three days on the Moon and his PhD in geology, coalesced into a new mission: to encourage mining the isotope Helium-3 (3He) from Moon rock, to harness a new form of renewable energy.
Mining on the Moon looks set to be a practical reality within the next 10 years thanks to Space 2.0, which reached a major milestone just a few weeks ago when NASA’s unmanned Orion capsule flew the furthest any crew-capable spacecraft has ever been from Earth.
In a few short decades humanity will have unparalleled access to space resources – the question is, what will we do with them?